Scanxiety: Preparing for a Medical Procedure During Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment

Last Updated: August 18, 2020

It’s normal to feel nervous or anxious about having tests and procedures during your cancer care, and these feelings are sometimes called “scanxiety.” In this video, Heather Hylton, PA-C, provides guidance on ways patients can prepare themselves beforehand.

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Tests and Procedures

Expert Podcast: Coping with “Scanxiety”

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Cancer.Net: Doctor-Approved Patient Information from ASCO®

Scanxiety: Preparing for a Medical Procedure During Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment

Voiceover: In cancer care, people often have to have different medical tests, scans, and procedures. Some tests are done so that doctors can make an accurate diagnosis of cancer, and some are done regularly to check your health during treatment, after treatment, and during survivorship care. It's normal to feel nervous or anxious about having tests and procedures done, whether it's a new test or something you've had before. Some patients call these feelings "scanxiety."

To help cope with this stress, there are many ways patients can prepare themselves beforehand, especially by gathering information ahead of time about what preparation needs to be done, who will be taking care of them during the test, what the test will be like, and how they will find out results. This can all reduce stress, and help ensure everything goes smoothly.

Heather Hylton, MS, PA-C, FASCO; Physician Assistant; Member, American Society of Clinical Oncology: There are steps that can be taken in the preparation process that can really help improve safety as well as quality when it comes to medical procedures and tests. The first starts with choosing the place that you want to have this procedure or test or scan done, and then getting it scheduled.

Voiceover: The medical team that will be taking care of you the day of the procedure will vary depending on what type of test or procedure is needed.

Heather Hylton: Physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and nurses, are all health care professionals who may perform procedures. Technologists may also perform certain procedures, and there may be other skilled professionals who are helping assist during a procedure. In some places, such as academic centers, there may be doctors in training, known as residents or fellows, who may also be participating in procedures.

Your health care team will provide you with instructions on what to do to prepare for the procedure. So this may include instructions on medications, as well as eating and drinking restrictions. It can be helpful to wear loose and comfortable clothing on the day of the medical procedure, and also leaving valuables such as jewelry, at home.

Voiceover: In many cases, the patient will receive instructions about things they need to do, or avoid doing, before arriving for the test. These may be things to do a few days ahead of the test, or just the night before or day of. These are important steps to take to ensure your test goes smoothly, and the results will be clear. Ask your health care team ahead of time for specific instructions for your test and let them know if you have any questions about them.

Heather Hylton: Some examples of this include, there may be some medications that your health care team may want you to take the day before the procedure, but maybe not the day of. Another example is your health care team may not want you to apply lotion or cream to your skin before something such as a mammogram, as that can affect the quality of the imaging results.

Voiceover: Preparing for a procedure or test also means informing the medical staff that will be taking care of you on the day of the procedure about any medical conditions or allergies that you have. The staff may ask you to sign a consent form when you arrive. This form states that you understand the benefits and risks of the procedure, and agree to have it.

It's also very helpful to ask the health care team in advance what you should expect during the procedure and once it is over. Knowing what will happen can help manage your stress as you wait for your test. For instance, some procedures require people to receive a special dye, called a contrast, for the test. This may mean that you will need an injection before the test itself begins. When injected in your vein, the contrast dye travels through the bloodstream and helps create a clearer picture of specific parts of your body. Or it may be given as a liquid to swallow, depending on what part of your body needs to be scanned. You may also receive some type of sedation or anesthesia to help you relax, or block the awareness of pain.

Heather Hylton: If you are going to be going home after a procedure, you will likely need a ride home, as you may be groggy or cloudy from medications that are given, either during the procedure or following the procedure.

Voiceover: As part of your preparations, ask about your ability to drive yourself home, because with some procedures you can go back to your normal activities, such as driving, immediately. And make sure to find out from your medical team when you can expect to get the results of the test or procedure, how you will be notified, and who can explain the results to you.

Heather Hylton: It can be difficult to wait for the results of a procedure or test, but your health care team will be able to provide you information on who will be contacting you to share the results, and they will also be able to provide you with an estimate of a timeframe in which those results will be available to share with you.

If you're awaiting your results and that timeframe has pretty much come to an end, and you haven't heard anything yet, I encourage you to call your health care team to find out more. It is always okay to call your health care team to share any questions or concerns that you might have, including the availability of your results.

Voiceover: If you are concerned about the cost of your procedure, reach out to the medical center where the test will be done to find out beforehand what your insurance provider will cover, and ask how much of the cost you will have to pay.

In general, talking with the health care team, and asking the questions that are important to you are ways that you can feel comfortable with the medical tests, procedures, and scans that help guide your cancer treatment and recovery.

To learn more about preparing for a medical test or procedure, you can visit ASCO's patient information website, Cancer.Net.

Heather Hylton: If you're looking for more information on cancer-related procedures and tests, Cancer.Net offers a wealth of resources for patients and their families. It includes some detailed descriptions of different cancer-related procedures and tests, as well as questions you might find helpful to discuss with your health care team.

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